Bear 100 Race Report: Sweet, but Humble Redemption

Most are not aware of this, but the Bear 100 in 2012 was my first attempt at the 100-mile distance.  At the time, I felt really well prepared, yet looking back, maybe I wasn’t.  Either way, that day in 2012 was cut short at mile 61 when I was forced to DNF due to a pretty severe tear of my calf muscle…one that was bad enough to sideline me from running for nearly three months.  While an injury is certainly a legit reason to drop from a race, not finishing was something that Has bothered me for a long time…I needed redemption!  Since then, I have worked hard at becoming a better mountain runner through more sound training and by building a better race resume, including my first 100-miler!  I was ready to conquer my demons and decided that 2015 would be the year that I would conquer the Bear.

The race started like it usually does — at 6am on the last Friday of September at the base of Logan Peak in Logan, Utah with a bunch of us idiots gathering around getting ready for the journey to Fish Haven, Idaho on the shores of Bear Lake.  The weather for this race is about as reliable as a 1988 Dodge.  It has seen rain, mud, and snow, but this year would be something a bit different…record heat (more on that later).

I started the race with one goal in mind…early preservation.  I wore my heart rate monitor for the first 8 hours to make sure to keep myself from going out too hard and fast and planned to drink all of my fluids between aid stations…a goal that was largely able to do (although it turned out to not be enough).  The course itself starts with the largest climb on the whole course up to Logan Peak.  This climb is great because you get to peer out over Logan as the sun is coming up.
 (Sunrise over Logan, Utah)

Another great aspect of the course is that it takes place in late September, when the changing colors of Autumn are in full effect.  The trail itself is so gorgeous that it’s hard to not stop and take some pictures; it certainly can help take your mind off of things.

I continued along much of the course without much issue for the first 50K or so.  It is fun running through the mountains and seeing free range cows, horses, and sheep along the way.  Aside from the fact that one of the sheep didn’t seem to be all that pleased with me, I didn’t really have any strange animal encounters.  I got to simply enjoy the company along the way.

Temperatures were expected to be warm for the race this year, which was much different than years past, but little did we know, we would actually reach all-time high’s for this time of the year.  I ran across this remnant of a cow and really hoped that the heat would not offer me the same fate!

As I continued on, I was met at at the aid stations by my awesome crew of my wife and two young daughters.  It is amazing how much energy you can get just from knowing that you get to see your own cheerleading crew along the way.  They kept me going throughout the day, but I was starting to feel the effects of the heat,  Just after leaving Temple Fork at mile 45, I started to get a really bad side stitch from dehydration.  I needed the sun to set and the temperature to cool down in order to catch back up on my hydration.  As it turns out, I wouldn’t be able to shake the side stitch, which caused sharp pain on the downhills, for nearly 20 miles.

Once I got to Tony Grove at mile 52, I finally picked up my pacer just as the sun was starting to set.  My buddy Pascal has never done ultra distance trail running, although he is a triathlete and certainly no slouch himself.  A few weeks ago, he offered to pace me since I had not yet found one and I owe him big time.  He got me through the entire night shift; I am not sure if I could have done that without him.
 (Getting ready to head out with Pascal)

As Pascal and I pushed on through the night, I was still dealing with the side pains for much of the night, but was surprised at my uphill pace.  I did a lot of back and forth with other runners as I cruised past on the uphills and they passed me back on the downhills.  It was really frustrating not to be able to push the downhills because of the side pain, and I slowly fell off of my target pace.  Oh well, still need to soldier on!

Not that I needed another challenge, but at about mile 70, my side pain was going away, but my feet started to swell up.  I had never experienced this before in a race, but they were pushing hard against the inside of my shoes.  When I arrived at the Beaver Lodge at mile 76, I threw myself down and ripped my shoes off.  I have to say, this was my mental low point of the race.  I wanted to quit so bad.  Luckily, I have the best crew in the world, my wife!  She gave me time to gather myself and then started putting my shoes back on for me.  She wasn’t going to let me quit.  I was mad at the time, but she did just what I needed…she kept me going.  Shortly after we left the lodge, I remember Pascal saying “this is it…the point of no return”.  That made sense to me.  I left the lodge (the place where more people drop at the Bear than any other) and knew I was going to finish.  Suddenly, I was back in the game mentally.

Shortly after crossing the Utah/Idaho state line, the sun started to come back up.  From here, I was able to do more running.  My feet hurt like hell and were still swollen, but I was able to employ the run/hike strategy; running where I could for as long as I could before switching to a hike.

At mile 85, Pascal switched off with my wife, my savior, for the last 15 miles.  After crewing for me all day, she stepped in to get me through the last 15 miles.  I owe this race to her and I couldn’t imagine being on the trail with anyone other than her at this point.  The last climb of the course is at mile 92.  It is the steepest climb on the course, but also short at a little less than a mile.  I charged up this thing.  I don’t know if it was just anticipation, but I got a burst in me that even allowed me to charge ahead of my wife up this climb.  I took this picture at the top of the climb.  To me, it looked like an archway marking the entrance of the final descent.
 (Atop Ranger Dip at Mile 93)

From this point on, it was all downhill.  It was also this point that my most famous quote of the day came out…”I just want to get off of this F@#$ing trail!”  Despite that, I was happy, I was about to finish the Bear!  I even managed a smile at mile 99!

I crossed the finish line in 31:24…a few hours off of my target time.  And while the competitive side of me is disappointed and analyzing how I could have done better, I have a huge chip off of my shoulder.  I came here in 2015 to get redemption for 2012 and I did that.  Now, as I sit here almost fully recovered, it is time to think about what is in store for 2016!

 (Evolution of me throughout the race)

So what did I learn?  Well, for one, I still have a lot to learn about this distance.  It is night and day versus those events that can be completed in a day.  Second, and more importantly, I have been thinking for months about my desire to do this distance.  I simply enjoy the 50 Mile much more and I like to enjoy running.  I am not going to decide now, but I may take a few years to focus on and get faster at the 50 Mile distance.

For the thank yous, my wife deserves all of the accolades for this one.  She has supported me through training, crewed me all day, refused to let me do anything except finish, and dealt with the last 15 grumpy miles while pacing me.  My wife is definitely my rock!  Thanks to Pascal for pacing me through the night and his family for supporting me.  Lastly, Thanks to all of my sponsors for embracing my journey and supporting me along the way.

What I Used:

  • Salomon Sense Pro / Hoka Challenger ATR (switched at mile 30)
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Socks with Liners
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 2
  • Gargoyles Breakaway sunglasses
  • Headsweats Go Hat
  • Petzl Tikka RXP / NAO Headlamps
  • Garmin Fenix 3
  • Honey Stinger Energy Chews and Waffles + aid station food

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

3 thoughts on “Bear 100 Race Report: Sweet, but Humble Redemption

  1. Very awesome work, Joe!
    I don’t know that you’ve yet had a perfectly smooth long race, but your perseverance and will to push on are really admirable. And to Becci … what an awesome crew leader she is. As you mention in your report, she truly is the one who has to be level headed during the race AND for many months preceding it. Take your deserved recovery, then I look forward to hearing about your next challenge!

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